The waste management center at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), which has received state-wide acclaim for its recycling efforts, has become the flashpoint of a dispute that has pitted nearby homeowners against school officials and has recently expanded to the proposed creation of a new library on the campus.
Determined to rid their neighborhood of what they believe has become a major nuisance, members of an adjacent community have formed an organization in the hope of forcing LMU to relocate the facility.
‘The university is not being a very considerate neighbor,’ charged Linda Kokelaar, who lives on McConnell Avenue and is a member of the McConnell Quality of Life Group.
Unpleasant sounds, odors and debris from the recycling center are some of the primary complaints lodged by property owners like Kokelaar, an educational therapist, who likens the sound of the recycling baler to ‘a screeching elephant that goes on for hours.’
Others say that representatives from LMU have brushed their grievances aside and have not taken them seriously.
‘What disturbs me the most is the university’s non-response to our concerns,’ said Mary Anne Stern, another member of the neighborhood group.
University officials say that they are sensitive to the concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods and have taken steps to mitigate any problems associated with noise.
Clarence Griffin, LMU’s director of community and local governmental relations, told The Argonaut that the school has held two town hall meetings, conducted study sessions and organized meetings with concerned neighbors to openly discuss solutions to the problems that the McConnell residents allege the facility is causing.
‘We have been communicating with residents on McConnell Avenue since last June,’ Griffin said.
In addition to running a facility that they claim has become an annoyance to those who live on her block, Kokelaar and several members of the nearby community have accused university officials of operating a waste treatment operation that is out of compliance with the law and that has brought vermin into their neighborhood.
They cite Los Angeles Building and Safety Code Sec. 12.21.A 18, which pertains to recycling centers and facilities.
Griffin disputes that charge, referring to an inspection last September by the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department at the plant.
‘We’ve been given a clean bill of health,’ he said. ‘The facilities yard is operating in accordance with the law.’
According to an inspection report obtained by The Argonaut, officials of the Los Angeles Building and Safety’s Code Enforcement Division visited the campus in September and proclaimed the site to be within regulation.
‘I met with Mr. Griffin and recycling and trash collection operators on site,’ wrote city inspector Chuck Nuckold. ‘This facility is an approved use accessory to university operationsÖ No violations were observed.’
The LMU waste management center is not a public facility, so it is not regulated by the city, say university officials.
LMU initiated its recycling program in 1990, after the passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 939. Known as the Integrated Waste Management Act, the bill was passed because of the increase in waste stream and the decrease in landfill capacity. AB 939 also established the California Integrated Management Waste Board.
‘We are the first university in the state to recycle 100 percent of our green waste,’ said Griffin. ‘The university recycles at least 56 percent of its solid waste, and continues to rebuild its ability to recycle.’
Last year, after numerous complaints from the McConnell group, LMU conducted a feasibility study to determine what remedies could be implemented to assuage its neighbors’ grievances. Some of the possible mitigations include:
n Erecting a sound wall to offset any noises emanating from the facility;
n Relocating sorting of all recycled material off-site (glass bottles, plastics and cans) by the end of the summer;
n Replacing the green waste conveyor belt by the end of the summer; and
n Buying new and quieter equipment and reducing the size of the recycling area from 18,000 to 7,200 feet.
‘We would like them to do all of those things immediately,’ said Richard Hofmeister, another McConnell homeowner.
But, like most of his neighbors, he still believes that the facility is not adhering to city code regulations.
Members of the neighborhood group reject the notion that they are anti-recycling, which they say has been alleged during the course of discussions with LMU representatives.
‘My backyard is registered as an urban wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation,’ Stern, who lives a few homes down from Kokelaar, asserted.
‘We’re not anti-recycling. All of us recycle quite a bit. But in my personal opinion, the university is operating an open waste dump near our neighborhood, and that’s not right.’
As a subtext to the recycling facility conflict, members of the McConnell group have filed an appeal against a planned library on the campus. Griffin believes that it is unfair that the controversy surrounding the recycling facility has become intertwined with the learning center.
‘It’s unfortunate that (McConnell homeowners) are trying to link two unrelated issues, when they are both separate issues,’ the director said.
‘We do believe that the library and the center are tied together,’ Stern contends. ‘People who use the library would add to the existing solid waste stream.’
‘The library will generate more traffic and the need for more parking and more recycling,’ added Kokelaar.
Stern believes that an independent third party should be invited to conduct additional studies of the waste management facility, due to the fact that the reports that have been generated have been conducted or paid for by LMU officials, she said.
Eleventh District City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said that he is attempting to facilitate a meeting between homeowners and the university in hopes of reaching a consensus on how to defuse the ongoing tension between both parties.
‘I’m hoping to bring the community and LMU together so that we can reach a positive resolution on this important neighborhood issue,’ he said.
Rick Garc’a, the vice-president of the school’s waste management facility, did not return calls for comment on this story.